Last month, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL rolled into theaters upon a huge wave of high expectations and excitement. Audience reaction has varied, including within our own programming team. Some (me! -Jordan) thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, while others don't think it quite lived up to the hype. Feel free to share your thoughts below! Did you love it? Were you disappointed? Has it grown on you after the fact?
Whatever your thoughts, read on for Programmer/Hospitality Director Debbie's SXSW review:
With his latest release, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, award-winning writer and director Jeff Nichols once again delivers a well-crafted and complex story that breaks out of traditional genres to weave a strong paternal instinct with the supernatural and otherworldly elements. Much like TAKE SHELTER, we bear witness to a family man who struggles to save and protect his family’s life against outside forces – some man-made and some not of this world exactly.
In the sci-fi thriller MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, Michael Shannon portrays Roy, a father who saves his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a cult that has built its theology from Alton’s special abilities and cryptic messages. Add a couple of government agents and scientists into the mix, and we’re off on a thrilling chase that doesn’t let up for most of the 112 minute runtime. Tension builds as the main characters, accompanied by Roy’s old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), encounter cult members who’ve left the fold as well as peace officers who are part of the manhunt.
As with his most recent award-winning drama MUD, Nichols’s ability to draw out complex performances from young actors is well-demonstrated with Lieberher’s characterization of Alton. Edgerton is engaging and witty, while not overpowering scenes with Shannon and Lieberher. Kirsten Dunst’s performance as Alton’s mother Sarah is superbly understated in her quiet and compassionate demeanor for her son and husband alike.
Adam Driver portrays Paul, a NSA analyst involved in tracking down the missing child, determined to unravel the mystery behind Alton’s extraordinary powers. This subplot is intriguing in how it plays out – is Paul more concerned about tapping into the boy’s special gifts or protecting him?
Longtime Nichols collaborator and composer David Wingo has created the perfect score for MIDNIGHT SPECIAL that sets an otherworldly and often ominous atmosphere that enhances the suspenseful action. Director of photography Adam Stone also reunited with Nichols, implementing close shots to create an intimacy between characters and viewers throughout most of the film, with dramatic sweeping panoramic shots in climatic scenes aptly exposing the truly incredible source of Alton’s powers.
While the exposition in the final act may come across as a bit overdone - and a bit reminiscent of the final act of THE ABYSS (1989) and CONTACT (1997) - the special effects and visual design engaged and awed me. Coupled with intense chase scenes and a masterful contrast between light and dark scenes, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is a dynamic thriller set in shadows that culminates in an alternate reality for its characters. While the ending leaves a few questions unanswered, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is well worth viewing for sci-fi fans.